By Neville Beard         
An increasingly popular choice for school leavers
Who doesn’t enjoy the concept of a break, a holiday, a gap from the daily routine of modern life? The question is really how long of a gap are you able to take?
If you are leaving (or have recently left) school you have an incredible opportunity to take a year, or part of a year, off (hence the term “Gap Year”). Many people think that they cannot afford to take time out now, but the reality is that it becomes more difficult later in life. Think about it – you’re probably not married, you also don’t yet have kids, and your monthly expenses are mainly personal in nature. You have youth and health on your side! All of these factors change as you get older, reducing your ability to take a gap. Whether you are going to study further or start working, it is not critical that you begin immediately, or even next year! Assuming that you are one of the few who are positive about what you want to do with your life, this still holds true. A year may seem like a long time, but it really is only about 1% of your entire life.

On the money side a combination of fundraising and saving, as well as working during your gap year will cover your costs. Keep in mind that you will never be able to live so cheaply again! Many gap year options cost less than one year at a South African university, and after a gap year most students do better as they have established priorities and goals in life.So, seeing that there are many arguments in favour of taking time out for yourself, the question is now, “What am I going to do during my gap year?”
Firstly, let’s look at what this ‘gap’ is – it is a space, a transition period, between the end of one phase of your life and the beginning of another. You are about to experience a period of change and growth, where you will be challenged to examine who you really are and who you want to become. A gap year is a time to reflect on your past, to gain perspective about yourself, to prepare and plan for your future, and to experience life in ways that may have been out of reach due to your age and circumstances.
A gap year can also generate feelings of fear and uncertainty (I mean, who really genuinely enjoys change?). Moving from dependence to independence, from teenager to young adult, requires changes in how we think and behave, in others’ expectations of us, and in the roles we are expected to play. Support and encouragement from friends and family help to bridge this gap period (so take advantage of any assistance offered to you!).
There are many options available to you, limited only by your imagination and, to a certain extent, your budget. The Gap Year industry is broken down into categories, namely:
Adventure travel  and life experiences
Study abroad
Work abroad
Within each of these categories are lots of available options, many of which are shorter than a year in length, allowing you to combine experiences over the course of a year. It is wise not to jump at the first program you find or to copy your friends’ choices, as a gap year is a personal investment, a time for you to deliberately design your life. A careful investigation and selection of programs and experiences relevant to your needs will reward you many times over later in life, often in unexpected ways.
So, where do you find information about gap year programs?
London, UK is the centre of gap year activity globally, but programs are available in most countries.
The internet is always the best place to start looking – see our list of recommended sites.
There are also books and directories available (some as e-zines), such as the Gap-Year Guidebook (2007 issue out in November 2006), the Gap Year Magazine, Verge magazine (Canadian based), High-school student's guide to study, travel, and adventure abroad (Council on International Educational Exchange. 5th ed. New York, St. Martin's Press), and Transitions Abroad magazine.
The second annual Gap Year Show is being held on 10 and 11 November 2006 in Manchester, UK, and in London, UK on 17 and 18 November 2006.It is also a good idea to talk to people who have taken a gap year to get tips and advice from them, and to talk with school advisors who often have a lot of material available for free.
So, Take the Gap!
Be deliberate about your gap year, take time out with the intention of experiencing more, discovering yourself, and making friends whilst literally having the time of your life. 
Recommended gap year websites:
Gap Year industry
Overseas organisations